This week Piggy Paradise has been blissfully quiet and uneventful. We have yet to experience the horrors of the extreme Islamist loony butchers who are currently wreaking their cowardly brand of barbarism across the World. The poor fools think that if they "martyr " themselves for their cause they will go to Paradise. Boy have I got news for them. Mohammed pops in now and again to visit his favourite camels, and let me tell you, he's livid at what these crackpots are doing in his name and that of Allah. Let's just say that any member of ISIL, Al-Qaeda Jemaah Islamiyah, or Boko Haram who rings the bell at the gates of Paradise will receive quite a hot reception. So anyway in light of this quiet week I will tell you a tale of my male staff's youth.
It's 1978, my male staff is twenty years old and has yet to inflict himself on my female staff. He still has his line green suit, his improbably tall cream and brown platform shoes, his newspaper print shirt and tie and his Hand of Fatima pendent that was about the size and weight of an aircraft carrier's anchor. Just twelve months before he'd returned to England having spent two years in Gibraltar with his parents who had been posted there with the Royal Air Force. He's spent that year working in Staines as a crash test dummy for a skateboard manufacturer. Well, that wasn't his official title but it probably should have been since he spent most of his working days not manufacturing the stupid things but rather zooming around the factory on them, often making heavy contact with fork lift trucks and other large and dangerous machinery. Having wrecked several skateboards and fork lift trucks he was finally called to the manager's office and told "I'm sorry, but we are going to have to let you go." The manager made it sound more like he was going to drop him from the roof rather than give him the sack.
So with this setback to his career as a dummy he decided to embark on a new career as an adventurer and conned his friend Andy into joining him. Andy thought he looked like John Lennon. and indeed he had the same round wire framed glasses. He could even put on a passable scouse accent when he'd had enough to drink, but in reality the similarities ended there. Between them they scraped together the princely sum of two hundred pounds and decided that they would hitch hike to Gibraltar and make a living busking. There were two main problems with this plan. Firstly my male staff couldn't play an instrument to save his life. (Andy could play Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" riff on his ancient, battered guitar, but little else.) Secondly both had singing voices that had been outlawed under the Geneva Convention. My male staff purchased a battered old guitar for five pounds and about three weeks later he could also play the "Smoke on the Water" riff and nothing else.
On a warm late July morning our two heroes caught a train from London's Victoria Station to Newhaven in order to catch the ferry across the English Channel to Dieppe in France. Both had a guitar case and an enormous backpack which made them look like strange beetles shuffling along the platform towards their train. The plan was to start hitchhiking once they reached Dieppe, however, arriving there as they did at three in the morning they found that there wasn't an awful lot of traffic going in their direction, or in any direction for that matter. They sat on the kerb by a road near the ferry terminal under one of those ghastly yellow streetlights for two hours as the damp sea air closed in around them and not a single car went by. Actually this may have been just as well because they had forgotten that they should have been waiting on the other side of the road because the French are foolish enough to drive on the right. Had they been offered a lift where they were waiting they might have found themselves in Amsterdam or somewhere, and with the delights on offer there for twenty year old males they probably would never have made it to Gibraltar.
By the time the first pallid light of dawn began to spread from the east a fine drizzle had begun to fall. Andy and my male staff looked at each other and simultaneously said. "Sod this! Let's get the train to Spain." And so they did. They trudged miserably, with drops of rain hanging from the ends of their noses to the railway station and bought tickets to Paris St Lazare. Even this was an adventure because the dude at the ticket counter either could not or did not want to speak English and combined, Andy and my male staff's French amounted to oui, non, bonjour, bon appetit, Pernod. and merde; none of which were terribly helpful under the circumstances. Nevertheless they obtained a ticket and a few hours later they had negotiated the Paris Metro system as far as Austerlitz station where they bought a ticket on a train to Hendaye - the most south westerly town in France, just on the northern side of the Pyrenees. For a glorious moment the lads thought they would have the compartment all to themselves, but just seconds before the train pulled out they found their personal space invaded by an enormous Portuguese family consisting of six children of varying ages, their parents, what seemed to be three aunts and both sets of grandparents. This crowd squeezed Andy and my male staff into a corner having shoved an epic quantity of luggage onto the rack on top of the lad's guitar cases. The pair winced every time a large, heavy suitcase was hefted up and dropped as roughly as possible onto the instruments that they hoped would provide them with a livelihood once they arrived at their destination.
The kids were fat and obnoxious. They grazed constantly on potato chips and chocolate and slurped noisily on brightly coloured sugary drinks, pausing only to scream at the top of their voices, throw food at each other and belch explosively to the great amusements of the adults in the family. My male staff has since enjoyed breakfast with the orang utans at Singapore zoo and he says the experience was quite similar. Fortunately it was an express train and approximately seven hours later the train vomited Andy, my male staff and the Portuguese family onto the platform at Hendaye. Naturally it was raining. It rains a lot in that part of the world at the best of times. I could have told Andy and my male staff that if they'd consulted me at the time, but unfortunately for them my spirit was inhabiting the physical body of a very handsome guinea pig called Alphonse and was being cared for by a nice little girl in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The chance of getting any sleep while sharing the compartment with the Portuguese family was zero, or worse than zero if that were possible so they were utterly exhausted as they walked through the rain to the border post which they cleared without a problem and found themselves in Irun, the first town in sunny Spain. The rain grew heavier, the evening was drawing in and there was nowhere to camp. The town looked miserably poor and dirty. The people eyed Andy and my male staff suspiciously as they trudged on. Grotty tenement blocks hung with limp, wet washing closed in around them and cars hissed by on the potholed roads, driving close enough to splash the travelers with cold oily water at every opportunity. Darkness was falling as fast as the rain when they finally came across a dry place to spend the night - a bus shelter covered in graffiti in the southern outskirts of the town. They struggled out of their backpacks and settled in for the night, laying head to toe along the wooden bench. Why was everyone so unfriendly and suspicious they mused as they unsuccessfully tried to drop off to sleep. Once again, if they had bothered to come to Sante Fe and ask me I could have told them. Irun had been at the forefront of a long, bloody and ongoing terror campaign perpetrated by the Basque Separatist group ETA. Shootings were pretty much a daily event and bombings were happening weekly. It was not a happy place.
To be continued....................Next week Andy and my male staff finally arrive in Gibraltar.
Oh no! Not a cereal. I hate cereals. In facked I'd like to be a cereal killer, that's how mutch I hate cereals. They're like so frustrayting. Yoo just get like all involved and hinterested and then yoo find owt that yoo haf to weight till necks wheek to find owt wot happened.